Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Grieving through the holidays

Hank's guitars standing watch
Last year we didn't celebrate any holidays after my late husband passed away. It was just too difficult. So, for Halloween we turned off all the lights and watched a movie in the basement, avoiding the hundreds of trick-or-treaters we normally see in our neighborhood. Thanksgiving was a family get-together but, instead of traditional fare, we did a huge taco bar and otherwise sat around and visited. It was the perfect alternative.

We didn't put up the Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving, which was our tradition. Nobody could bear the thought of going through the 28+ years of Christmas ornaments we had collected together. Instead, I semi-decorated a large tropical palm tree with non-Christmasy lights and called it good. It felt festive without the emotional drain. And for Christmas, well, the kids got gifts throughout December rather than a Christmas morning extravaganza. It would be too heartrendingly obvious that someone was missing.

I wanted things to be different this year. New house, new community. We celebrated the 20+ kids that came to our house for Halloween and, for Thanksgiving, had family and new neighbors over for a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Again, it was perfect. My daughter remarked the day after that she had a really great time but couldn't shake the feeling that it didn't feel like Thanksgiving. Then it dawned on her that it didn't feel like Thanksgiving because something was missing, her Dad was missing.

Yesterday, I put up the Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving, as was our family tradition. I didn't realize how incredibly hard that was going to be. We've had this fake tree since 2007, the year my late husband was diagnosed with cancer. The year I started this blog. He was too sick to help carry a real tree that year, so we bought a floor model artificial Christmas tree and have used it sporadically since then, depending on how sick he was.

Stein Haus Pub!
He was the one that always put on the lights and the garland and the kids and I would put on the ornaments. This year I did it mostly myself, with my son putting on the ornaments they had gotten over the years. I'm not going to lie, it was much more emotionally difficult than I was expecting. Afterwards, my daughter and I went out to buy a few new ornaments for the tree, as is our tradition. We bought some to represent our new home and community and then spent a few hours talking at our new favorite coffee shop, to help process.

Christmas hadn't been "normal" around our house for years. My late husband was in the hospital from Thanksgiving to New Years in 2016, on one of his many horrific brushes with death. That was the one and only time my daughter visited him during his hospital stays. One which she regrets - it was just too hard to see him so sick, so depressed and in a unit where people went in, but generally didn't come back out. And, it was Christmas. He should have been at home.

In 2017, he was home but enduring another round of illness from his stem cell transplant and, shortly after, went blind as the stem cells attacked his eyes. He really never recovered from that post-transplant graft in 2016. After that, we all just muddled along, enduring the massive ups-and-downs from his cancer, the treatments, the effects on his body and waiting for the inevitable.

You really don't recognize how much stress you're under while you're in it. What I call "Cancer PTSD" is real and we're all slowly coming out of that, but it will take years. You never know when grief, mourning and loss will hit you as it did while I was putting the garland on the tree. Holidays will always be hard. My kids will always be grieving the fact their father is gone. I'm hoping that, at least, moving forward with our family traditions and starting new ones will help us all heal.


J J Sandy said...

Been there, 40 years later, still some repercussions. It never goes away entirely but it does get easier. my heart goes out to you.

El Gaucho said...

A difficult but beautiful piece to read. Thanks you for sharing and best wishes for an enjoyable holiday season, whatever form it may take.